screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-3-39-16-pm-300x259-4803116Some of New York’s worst tendencies in bargaining with government unions were on display yesterday in Buffalo—even before the school board illegally took things behind closed doors.

The school district announced Sunday that, after more than a decade of bargaining, it had reached a tentative agreement with the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF). But the terms of the agreement were kept secret even after the school board met at 4pm Monday to discuss it, with members voting to go into executive session outside of public view.

Taxpayers weren’t given a chance to see the contract, let alone get an objective analysis of its costs, ahead of the board’s vote to accept it. This wasn’t just disrespectful of the taxpayers who will have to pay for the contract: as The Buffalo News correctly pointed out ahead of time, the district violated the Open Meetings Law.

State law doesn’t require any proactive disclosure in contract proceedings, as we explained in this 2008 report, but the contract wasn’t so much as posted on the district’s website. Instead, photos of the contract were leaked on Twitter by a Buffalo News reporter, around the same time the school board came out of its executive session to quickly vote, 7 to 2, to ratify the deal.

Unfortunately for Buffalo taxpayers, the union effectively had seats on both sides of the table, having spent heavily in the school board races earlier this year and six of the nine current members having received union support in their campaigns.

That showed through in the final product. The deal is expected to add more than $98 million to district costs over the next three years, although the district had set aside only $65 million to cover all of its pending labor negotiations. Those figures are from news reports: as usual in such cases, the proposed contract was not accompanied by any detailed rundown of fiscal implications. It’s also not clear whether that $98 million figure includes added pension costs, which this year will come to $1.72 million for every $10 million in added teacher pay.

While the district won a longer school day (7 hours, 15 minutes, up from 6 hours, 50 minutes) and added one teaching day to the school year, it didn’t achieve any structural changes: a teacher’s seniority will still be weighed more heavily than his or her actual effectiveness, and teachers will still be paid on “steps” that allow for automatic pay raises for decades after contracts expire. Though wages were frozen between 2004 and 2007 by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, step increases resumed thereafter. Including steps in the contract greatly reduces future incentive for the union to negotiate, meaning the district has set itself up for a repeat episode after the new contract expires in three years.

Buffalo teachers will now, like most people in the private sector, pay toward their health insurance, but instead of a percentage, the contribution will top out at $600 for individuals and $1,500 for a family plan—effectively less than 10 percent of plan costs, which will continue to increase. By comparison, under contracts negotiated with Governor Cuomo, unionized state government employees are required to pay up to 16 percent of the cost of individual coverage and up to 31 percent of dependent coverage.

All teachers are getting immediate 10 percent raises, as well as bonuses. Raises they were already scheduled to receive (thanks to step increases) will be bumped up by 2 percent in each of the next school years.

It’s worth noting that, thanks to the Triborough Amendment, virtually every teacher continued receiving raises under the expired contract after the wage freeze ended in 2007: looking at pay data for the 2,310 New York State Teachers Retirement System members who worked for the district in both school years 2007-08 and 2015-16, their combined pay increased 33 percent over eight years. While the figure includes some school administrators, it’s a general reminder that the union was operating under a different set of rules from what workers in the private sector would have experienced.

And while the district got the union to give up its fabled free cosmetic surgery benefit, teachers will still have another four months to binge on free tummy tucks and botox injections at taxpayer expense.

All of these points would likely have come up in public discussion—if the public been allowed to see the contract before becoming signatories to it.

Taxpayers weren’t the only group to have their interests put on the back burner by the board. As BTF president Phil Rumore told The Buffalo News: “The biggest victory is that we reached a contract … Now perhaps we can start talking about kids rather than contracts.”

Shouldn’t the kids have been the teachers’ top concern all along?


About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

On Measuring School Quality, Education Week Misses the Mark

Education Week’s rankings do not measure what counts. New York’s substandard achievement coupled with highest-in-the-nation spending and above-average wealth means that when it comes to school quality, New York fails to pass the mark. Read More

State Forces School Districts To Give Raises—And Layoffs

Months of bad decisions and inaction by New York state officials have put school districts in the awkward position of having to give pay raises to most teachers while laying off others. Read More

Even After Aid Cut, New York Will Spend Most on Education

If New York was a country in 2016—the most recent year for global education spending data—it would have boasted the highest per pupil expenditure in the world, even after subtracting 20 percent of state aid. Read More

Cuomo’s ‘Reinvent Policing’ Order Dodges Confrontation with Police Unions

Governor Cuomo has ordered local governments to “reinvent” their police departments or risk losing state and federal funding, but the back-up guidance from Cuomo's office sets up an arduous process that likely will conflict with other parts of state law. To put it plainly, the guidance shows the state’s “New York Tough” governor won’t take on its police unions. Read More

Lawmakers Look To Dump More Public Cash On Teamsters

State lawmakers this week moved to make public construction more expensive in a bid to steer work to one of New York’s struggling construction unions. Read More

Big Apple Pols Have Played Both Sides in NYPD Fight

New York City’s police department has come under criticism in recent days, with some city officials saying NYPD funding should be reduced. But many of the same New York City Council members parroting calls to “defund” the NYPD were just a year ago pushing Mayor Bill de Blasio to give city cops a big pay hike. It’s a reminder that New York’s elected officials, no matter how principled, routinely don’t want to say “no” to public-sector unions. Read More

Union pay remains non-“prevailing”

Barely one in five private construction workers in New York State was covered by a union contract last year, according to newly released statistics that call into question a state public works "prevailing wage" mandate that assumes 30 percent union coverage of building trades occupations across New York. Read More

“LIFO” strikes again

Rochester schools are laying off 152 teachers, but there’s little doubt which educators are on the chopping block. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.